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K-State Today Student Edition

September 26, 2013

Plant pathology postdoctoral researcher selected as a 2013 NSF-Gates BREAD Ideas Challenge winner

By Karen Garrett

Sara Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher mentored by Karen Garrett, professor in the plant pathology department, was among the 13 winners of the 2013 BREAD Ideas Challenge competition.

The competition, part of the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development, or BREAD,  program, is co-funded by the National Science Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Participants were asked to describe the most pressing issues facing smallholder farms in developing countries. Thomas' winning idea called for a green revolution in vegetatively-propagated crops by better understanding the complex problem of 'seed degeneration' among smallholder farmers.

This idea stems from a current international collaborative project at Kansas State University funded by the CGIAR Consortium Research Program for Roots, Tubers and Bananas to address seed degeneration. When farmers reuse diseased planting material in vegetatively-propagated crops, seed tends to accumulate pathogens, ultimately resulting in low yields. The resulting seed degeneration is of particular concern in developing countries where disease-free seed is often scarce and/or expensive. Although the problem is common to many food crops, this project focuses on five crops – potato, sweet potato, cassava, yam and banana — which are staple food crops in many developing countries. In collaboration with scientists around the world, including those at the International Potato Center, CIP; International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, or IITA; International Center for Tropical Agriculture, or CIAT; and Bioversity, the K-State researchers are developing computational models to support strategies for better seed degeneration management.